It is not true that the sky parted and Ken Griffey Jr. floated down on a cloud, nor that a voice of a prophet came out of an Iowa cornfield and told of the coming of the perfect ballplayer, one who would dominate the national pastime during the last decade of the 20th century.

But such cosmic entrances might have been appropriate given the real-life achievements of the junior Griffey, 20, a center fielder with the Seattle Mariners, who began his second season as American League player of the month for April.

Not even halfway into June, Griffey, still the youngest player in the big leagues, is hitting .336 and has the most hits in the AL (71) through Thursday.

Already, he is the cornerstone of the franchise and the darling of Seattle. Twenty-thousand pens were given out on "Ken Griffey Pen Night," and they are already worth $20 each to collectors. Few would argue that he is baseball's most salable commodity of the '90s.

Griffey is built like Darryl Strawberry, plays like Willie Mays, hustles like Pete Rose and is as dedicated to excelling as Carl Yastrzemski and his blistered and bleeding hands. Even now he is being measured for the Hall of Fame. Many suggest that he has only to put in 20 years and his inevitable statistics will make his election automatic.

"Junior's the best prospect I've ever seen," Mariners Manager Jim Lefebvre said. "I've told our coaches, 'We're going to be able to go through our lives and say we were there at the start of Ken Griffey Junior's career, a once-in-a-lifetime kid to come along.' He is so far ahead of his talent, it's frightening. He's got God-given instincts."

Mariners batting coach Gene Clines added: "There isn't a pitch he can't hit. I've never seen him in a slump. He adjusts like a 10-year veteran. Without a doubt he's a God-given natural. The scary part is what he'll be accomplishing when he's 25 years old."

It begins in the genes. His father, Ken Griffey, is winding down a fine career with the Cincinnati Reds, making the Griffeys the first father-son act performing in the majors at the same time in baseball history.

Ken, who now refers to himself as "The Original Griffey," marveled: "Kenny is impressive in all the five important categories in the game" -- hitting for average, hitting with power, running, throwing, fielding. "It just doesn't make sense for someone to have that much talent. Watching him play is almost frightening."

There is a sixth category everyone is watching: Griffey's ability to handle his onrushing celebrity that is growing into a monster with every breath. It began in the Class A California League when the club held an unprecedented poster night for him and sold out the ballpark. When he would go to the plate, the public address announcer would ask, "What time is it?" The crowd would respond "Griffey Time."

In this first major league at-bat, he doubled. In his first at-bat in The Kingdome, he homered. In his first pinch-hitting appearance, he homered. By the end of his 1989 rookie season he had his own candy bar with his image on the wrapper (ironic because he is allergic to chocolate).

Fans also could have their choice of five Griffey posters and two Griffey T-shirts. He more than doubled his $68,000 salary with royalties from his off-the-field ventures. He has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and has a book due out soon. Security escorts him from the ballpark nightly, and once from a shopping center during an autograph session. The Mariners have had to curtail interviews and national television appearances.

His love for the game is all-consuming. He usually is at the ballpark up to five hours before game time. He skitters about mischievously, teasing and trading insults with his older teammates and is a card-game kibitzer. He wears a fixed wide smile and Christmas morning excited eyes and swings a can't-wait bat at imaginary pitches. With his cap on backward, his pants legs reaching his ankles and his giddy air, he reminds one of some hotshot dude at the drive-in after a softball game.

"I'd like to talk to you," he told a reporter seeking an interview, "but first you have to go through {publicist} Dave Aust or Jim Lefebvre."

Lefebvre's managerial role has been described as that of a museum curator of a valuable artifact charged to his safe keeping and nurturing. He explained: "Last year demands were so great on the father-and-son thing, we had to confine Kenny's interviews to a 20-minute press conference in every city on the road. It hasn't gotten out of hand, but it's something that could. We want him to stay focused on baseball."

Griffey's agent, Brian Goldberg, who turns down close to a dozen requests every week for appearances and endorsements, said: "Off-the-field activities are held to a minimum during the season. All that outside income comes from what he does on the field. Sure, the urge is to take advantage of opportunities. But the bottom line is the development of his baseball career."

The youngest player in the majors last year proved he could play. He was a leading rookie of the year candidate, batting .287 with 13 homers and 45 RBI, when he broke his hand in a fall in a Chicago hotel room in August. He was out four weeks. "When he returned he tried to make up the lost time and began swinging for the fences," Lefebvre said. Griffey finished with a .264 average, 16 homers and 61 RBI.

Explaining the reasons for being so protective, Lefebvre said: "We don't want him to become bitter or turned off by the press or the fans. It can happen when a young player is overwhelmed by too much attention too fast. I've seen some guys shut down and avoid everybody the rest of their career. I want the press and the fans to enjoy him and his talent. I don't want him to become bitter. Remember, he's only 20 years old. I don't want to take growing up away from him. When he walks between the lines he's a major-leaguer. But off the field he's still just a youngster."

Griffey has a youngster's fascination for automobiles. He is driving his third BMW. The current one has $8,000 of stereo equipment that includes 14 speakers. And, of course, a cellular phone.

He phones his dad, his mother, Bertie, and his brother, Craig, every day. A $600 monthly phone bill is routine. Craig is enrolled at Ohio State, where he is a defensive back on the football team. The family is very close. Ken visited Kenny three times when their schedules permitted last season. Last month, when both the Reds and Mariners were playing in New York, Ken saw Kenny rob Jesse Barfield of a home run with a spectacular catch. "I was stunned like everyone else in the stands," the proud father said.

Ken did not push his son into baseball. "He plays the game with such ease and has so much fun with it," Ken said. He believes that Kenny's lack of awe of the big leagues has helped his development. He grew up in the Reds' locker room in the 1970s when the Big Red Machine was winning two world championships. The sons of those players include Pete Rose Jr., Eduardo and Victor Perez, Lee May Jr., Brian McRae. They were called the Little Red Machine. By the time Kenny was 11, Ken no longer could strike him out.

In interviews, his voice barely audible, Griffey said: "Only thing dad ever told me was to go out and have fun. Whatever happens, happens. Stay out of trouble and be a good kid. . . . Playing in the big leagues while my father is still active is the biggest thrill of my life. I try to see him play whenever I can."

Griffey is not in awe of big league pitching. "I've been swinging the same way since I was born. It's always worked. Why change now?"

The reporter thanked him.

"Next?" he asked with a nervous laugh. An anxious TV crew was waiting its turn.